Nissan designers use HaptX VR gloves to shape future cars

If you want to design a car, you’ll need a lot of clay.

After the initial two-dimensional sketches, cars are traditionally brought to life in the form of full-size clay models. But Nissan is trying to find a high-tech way around that labor-intensive process. The Japanese automaker is using HaptX virtual reality gloves to let designers craft three-dimensional models without any clay.

Nissan and other automakers already use VR systems with handheld controllers that allow designers to “draw” in a virtual environment, or for company executives to view a finished design virtually. But HaptX claims its gloves give designers even more control over their virtual models.

Conventional VR systems allow designers to draw, but traditional clay models aren’t drawn, they’re sculpted. Using haptic feedback (hence the name HaptX), the gloves are designed to let users “feel” the models they’re working on. They can change the surfaces through touch, much like how a sculptor working with clay will shape the material to achieve a certain look.

It is vital for designers and executives to have a full-scale, three-dimensional model of a car. It lets everyone involved ensure that the design is right before anything is approved for production, and factories start bending metal. But clay models are expensive and labor intensive to make. Doing everything virtually eliminates that, and it allows people at different facilities to see the same car — even if they’re on opposite sides of the globe.

HaptX claims its gloves provide an added benefit. Instead of just looking at a virtual model, the gloves allow a user to grip the steering wheel or turn the volume knob, HaptX claims. That adds an extra level of realism, although it’s unclear how accurately the gloves will be able to account for different variables like the feel of different materials, and the action of switchgear.

Nissan has created virtual models of its Leaf electric car and IMs concept car, according to HaptX, but the automaker did not say whether the HaptX gloves were used in the initial designs of these vehicles. Unveiled at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show, the IMs concept boasts an electric powertrain with a claimed 380-mile range and autonomous-driving capability.

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